Most cat owners can attest to the interesting, comical, and sometimes bizarre behavior of felines. Cats rub their heads on objects, people, and other pets for a number of reasons. They may be showing affection or contentment, or marking their territory by leaving their scent. A cat may also rub its teeth on a chair leg or the corner of a table in an effort to clean the teeth. Some cats are more prone to rubbing their heads on objects than others, and there is no reason to be concerned about health or happiness of a pet that does not do it often. Like people, cats are highly intelligent individuals with unique personalities and distinctive behaviors.
Animal behavior specialists, veterinarians, and highly attentive pet owners believe that cats rub their heads on objects primarily to mark their territory. Cats have scent glands on their heads and chin that release minute amounts of pheromones when they rub on things like furniture legs, cabinets, and door thresholds. The pheromones are not detectable by humans, but other cats in a multiple pet home recognize them easily.
A feline that appears to be putting a lot of effort into rubbing its head or chin on an object is likely trying to cover up the scent left by another pet in the home. Most cats rub their heads in an attempt to show others that they are dominant. Rubbing to mark territory is more common in male cats that have been neutered; males that have not been fixed might opt to spray an area with urine instead of rubbing his head on an object.
When cats do this to people, they are both marking their territory and showing affection. Some very affectionate cats will show their fondness by head-butting a person's hand or leg repeatedly, with considerable force. A more tentative feline might choose to softly rub up against a person. Cats generally only rub their heads on people when they are in good moods. A rubbing session is usually accompanied by purring, and any disturbance can promptly put an end to the behavior.
There may be many other reasons why cats rub their heads on things. Experts believe that female cats that have not been spayed will rub their heads on objects to inform potential mates that they are in heat. Additionally, a cat might rub against the corner of an object to help clean its teeth. If a cat that appears unhappy engages in frequent rubbing, it may be trying to scratch a pesky itch or experiencing an allergic reaction to fleas or other irritants. Pet owners are usually highly attentive to their cats' moods, and a distressed feline should be inspected by a licensed veterinarian to ensure it is healthy.